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Chapter 47
The day broke, humid and overcast, with the wind warmand the sky a dense blanket of grey clouds that looked likebunched-up, dirty cotton sheets. The sea had not changed. Itheaved the lifeboat up and down in a regular motion.
The zebra was still alive. I couldn't believe it. It had atwo-foot-wide hole in its body, a fistula like a freshly eruptedvolcano, spewed half-eaten organs glistening in the light orgiving off a dull, dry shine, yet, in its strictly essential parts, itcontinued to pump with life, if weakly. Movement was confinedto a tremor in the rear leg and an occasional blinking of theeyes. I was horrified. I had no idea a living being could sustainso much injury and go on living.
The hyena was tense. It was not settling down to its nightof rest despite the daylight. Perhaps it was a result of taking inso much food; its stomach was grossly dilated. Orange Juicewas in a dangerous mood too. She was fidgeting and showingher teeth.
I stayed where I was, curled up near the prow. I was weakin body and in soul. I was afraid I would fall into the water ifI tried to balance on the oar.
The zebra was dead by noon. It was glassy-eyed and hadbecome perfectly indifferent to the hyena's occasional assaults.
Violence broke out in the afternoon. Tension had risen to anunbearable level. The hyena was yipping. Orange Juice wasgrunting and making loud lip-smacking noises. All of a suddentheir complaining fused and shot up to top volume. The hyenajumped over the remains of the zebra and made for OrangeJuice.
I believe I have made clear the menace of a hyena. It wascertainly so clear in my mind that I gave up on Orange Juice'slife before she even had a chance to defend it. Iunderestimated her. I underestimated her grit.
She thumped the beast on the head. It was somethingshocking. It made my heart melt with love and admiration andfear. Did I mention she was a former pet, callously discardedby her Indonesian owners? Her story was like that of everyinappropriate pet. It goes something like this: The pet is boughtwhen it is small and cute. It gives much amusement to itsowners. Then it grows in size and in appetite. It reveals itselfincapable of being house-trained. Its increasing strength makesit harder to handle. One day the maid pulls the sheet from itsnest because she has decided to wash it, or the son jokinglypinches a morsel of food from its hands – over some suchseemingly small matter, the pet flashes its teeth in anger andthe family is frightened. The very next day the pet finds itselfbouncing at the back of the family Jeep in the company of itshuman brothers and sisters. A jungle is entered. Everyone inthe vehicle finds it a strange and formidable place. A clearing iscome to. It is briefly explored. All of a sudden the Jeep roarsto life and its wheels kick up dirt and the pet sees all the onesit has known and loved looking at it from the back window asthe Jeep speeds away. It has been left behind. The pet doesnot understand. It is as unprepared for this jungle as itshuman siblings are. It waits around for their return, trying toquell the panic rising in it. They do not return. The sun sets.
Quickly it becomes depressed and gives up on life. It dies ofhunger and exposure in the next few days. Or is attacked bydogs.
Orange Juice could have been one of these forlorn pets.
Instead she ended up at the Pondicherry Zoo. She remainedgentle and unaggressive her whole life. I have memories fromwhen I was a child of her never-ending arms surrounding me,her fingers, each as long as my whole hand, picking at myhair. She was a young female practising her maternal skills. Asshe matured into her full wild self, I observed her at adistance. I thought I knew her so well that I could predict herevery move. I thought I knew not only her habits but also herlimits. This display of ferocity, of savage courage, made merealize that I was wrong. All my life I had known only a partof her.
She thumped the beast on the head. And what a thump itwas. The beast's head hit the bench it had just reached,making such a sharp noise, besides spl............
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